Scholar Bergen Evans believes firmly in a relative grammar. "No one can say how a word ought to be used." he insists. "The best anyone can do is say how it is being used."
Such frank statements, denying any final, unchanging standard of English grammar, horrify many men of letters who maintain that Evans' opinions lead straight to linguistic chaos. Last week Evans' baiters and backers were thumbing through a new, 576-page defense of his pragmatic approach to grammar, called
A Dictionary of Contemporary American Usage (Random House; $3.95). Evans, 52, a professor of English at Northwestern University, wrote the book with...